Singing Woodshed Harmony(Part 3 of 5 in a series) --provided to PROBE by Toban Dvoretzky, President of AHSOW
Here are some realizations and hints about woodshedding:
Harmony-part singers: A good general guideline is to stay on the note you're on until your ear strongly suggests that you must move to another. Especially if you have little formal musical experience, and when you're newer to woodshedding, this sense will be more "intuitive" than anything else. That's fine! Resist the temptation to "get fancy" for its own sake, and try to avoid unduly second-guessing yourself. Just relax, listen, and move when required -- either when you sense that the chord must change (has changed) from the one you were on, or when someone else is taking your most recent note, or when you sense otherwise that the chord being sung is somehow "incomplete," or it's not fulfilling or "ringing." Trust your ear!
BassThe barbershop bass part is not always as low as someone new to the part might be tempted to sing it, and the barbershop tenor part is not always as high as one might be tempted to sing it. Barbershop is "close harmony." When the melody is on a lower note, the bass usually has the right to the highest note below the melody that makes the most sense. When the melody is riding high, the tenor generally has the right to the lowest note above the melody that makes the most sense. There are infrequent exceptions. Trust your ear.
The tenor and bari rarely have to make LARGE jumps from one note to the next. Depending on what the melody does, the bass will be obliged to move in intervals as small as a half- or whole-step (either up or down) or in intervals as large as four, four and a half, or five notes (either up or down) or by six or seven notes (usually up). Trust your ear.
The bass can do the most for any chord, and for the tenor and bari, when he can sense when to sing a root or fifth (a "strong-feeling" note) of a chord and adjust to sing whichever one of those that the lead isn't singing, when the lead is on one or the other. The bass is entitled to the highest possible bass note that will not create an incomplete chord (per whatever note the lead is on) and which will not lock the bari out of a note that the bari should be singing. Trust your ear.
TenorVery generally speaking, the tenor will usually have success when harmonizing in thirds above the melody. (If only one other singer were harmonizing along with a melody, this would be what would naturally happen.) The tenor will generally be singing a preponderance of thirds and sevenths of chords -- and whichever of these the bari is not singing, in most of these cases. Trust your ear.
BariThe bari will sing either below or above the melody. Many brand-new bari woodshedders tend to sing too high, or almost always above the melody, which obliges the tenor to shoot for a note considerably higher than the note the tenor might naturally opt to sing. When otherwise in doubt, the bari's salvation can be to sing the seventh of a chord. The bari should seek to sing an internal note in the chord that neither "doubles" the melody-note nor doubles the tenor note an octave down. The bari should listen to the direction of the melody-line -- if the melody is going upward, and especially if it SKIPS upward, the bari is most likely going to go DOWN, and vice-versa. Trust your ear.
Feel free to contact AHSOW, Inc. at any time with inquiries about woodshedding.